March 8, 2004 – Todd Bertuzzi, then with the Vancouver Canucks attacked Steve Moore of the Colorado Avalanche in an act of retribution. Steve Moore had injured Bertuzzi’s long time friend and teammate Markus Naslund in a game several weeks earlier with what many people considered to be a cheap shot. Bertuzzi sucker punched Moore from behind knocking him out and breaking his neck. Several publications at that time indicated that perhaps Moore’s neck was broken after several players piled on top of him in an attempt to get at Bertuzzi. The sport received a huge black eye as major media outlets across the globe ran stories regarding the infamous incident. By no means am I condoning what Bertuzzi did, because he is a coward, but in light of the incident I doubt Mr. Bertuzzi meant to injure Moore as bad as he did. If Moore skates off of the ice that night with a cut on his head and a welt the size of a potato then Bertuzzi probably gets fined or receives a minimal suspension, and is a cult hero in Vancouver. Instead the public outcry only intensified when the news of Steve Moore’s 3 broken vertebrae was released. Outrage and public vilification was in full swing, people wanted Bertuzzi banned for life and claimed he was lucky he didn’t kill Mr. Moore. Todd Bertuzzi was suspended indefinitely pending a review by the NHL. In total Bertuzzi missed the final 13 games of the regular season and all of the playoffs which amounted to only 7 games for the shorthanded Canucks. In addition, the IIHF banned Bertuzzi from playing in any other league or tournament that it governs until the NHL reinstated Bertuzzi on August 8, 2005.
Fast Forward 7 years to the day –
March 8, 2011 – Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins savagely drives Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty straight into the glass partition that separates the two benches. Max Pacioretty is a 22 year old, hard working, grinding third line winger. Several weeks earlier in a game featuring the two rivals Pacioretty had pushed Chara from behind enraging him in what turned out to be a spirited affair that resulted in countless fights at an unprecedented amount of penalty minutes to both teams. The Canadiens and Bruins is not a rivalry for the faint of heart. Last night with the score 4-0 in favour of Montreal with only 20 seconds left in the period Zdeno Chara drove Max Pacioretty into the glass knocking him out cold and breaking two vertebrae in his neck. It was an absolutely sickening hit and one that could have been avoided. What was Chara trying to do? Whether he is known as a dirty player or not that hit was as dirty as they come. The period was almost over and the big Boston Bruins captain was trying to send a message. This is all speculative, but after passionately watching the NHL for the past 15 years it is pretty obvious what the Big Bruins Captain was trying to do. He was trying to send a message to the Canadiens that they wont be having an easy third period and he was trying to provide a spark to his team, to get them to wake up. Was he trying to injure the young Canadiens player? I highly doubt it, but at the same time he surely wasn’t trying to prevent him from scoring as the puck was long since gone and they were at centre ice. I don’t think Chara was trying to break Pacioretty’s neck, but neither was Todd Bertuzzi trying to break Steve Moore’s. Zdeno Chara is a 13 year NHL veteran with 10 of those seasons playing in the NHL’s North East Division with the Ottawa Senators and Boston Bruins. Both of these two teams are fierce rivals of the Montreal Canadiens and play at the Bell Centre, home of the Montreal Canadiens, a minimum of 3 times a season not including the playoffs. After 13 years in the league and most of it spent as a rival to the Canadiens, Mr. Chara must know the intricate details of the Bell Centre. I find it hard to believe that he wasn’t fully aware of the dangerous spot he put his fellow hockey playing colleague. There is a good chance Max Pacioretty will never play in the NHL again, but I’m sure that is not on his mind as he counts his blessings he is still alive.
How would the NHL respond? No doubt they would come down hard on Chara, especially this season, where they appear to be under the microscope. “Headshots” has been the NHL buzzword of the season and many debates have raged on. The overall safety of the players is constantly debated by the so called hockey experts. The blow hard Don Cherry has been uncharacteristically quiet following this incident and he is the biggest advocate against the touch up icing rule which is inherently dangerous. Cherry’s biggest problem with that rule is that the player is defenseless to the hit and could be seriously hurt. Similar to how Mr. Pacioretty was completely defenseless and vulnerable last night and was seriously hurt. Well, today the NHL dropped the ball, again. Days after suspending a no name player, Trevor Gillies, for 10 games for a hit to the head of Cal Clutterbuck for this tame hit (you be the judge – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LgfOpSyqo9M) they are letting Chara off of the hook. No suspension, nothing, not even a slap on the wrist. In the word of law – an absolute discharge. I for one cannot even begin to fathom how the NHL brain trust came to this conclusion. Whether or not there was or wasn’t malice or intent to injure, Chara DID injure Pacioretty and severely affected his livelihood. He broke his neck, and severely bruised his brain. Chara must be held responsible for his actions, the same way Todd Bertuzzi was. Only Zdeno Chara knows what was going through his head at that time and I would hope he is man enough to take some personal responsibility for his actions because the NHL surely isn’t. When a drunk driver gets behind the wheel of a car and kills someone, did they intend to do that? Did they mean to do that? Do they walk away scot free? Hell no! Obviously I don’t want to paint Chara with that broad brush, but he did take Max Paciroetty and direct his body into a situation that caused him to break his neck, case closed. Judging from the recent suspension to Gillies and the past suspension of Bertuzzi, Chara should have received a penalty no less then 10 games and no more then the rest of the season including playoffs. He should have to forfeit his right to play the game that both he and Max Pacioretty love. Somebody should have to explain where no suspension is the proper course of action. If I go to work and severely hurt my co – worker, you better believe I’m going to hear about it, so should Zdeno.